Clubhouse Brings Together Iranians More Used to Trading Insults

Public debate in Iran has for decades been monopolized by state authorities primarily concerned with promoting Islamic values, stemming Western influence and curbing dissent. Enter Clubhouse.

The invite-only iPhone app is connecting Iranians more used to venting their seemingly irreconcilable differences: political exiles, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps veterans, monarchists and staunch defenders of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Inside virtual “rooms” they’re openly, and reasonably politely, discussing Iran’s political system, with more than 2,000 people listening in at times. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are all officially banned in Iran.

“It’s all audio and you can immediately see how people are much more civilized when their name is there and when they’re speaking,” said Adnan Tabatabai, Iran analyst at Bonn-based research center CARPO. The San Francisco-based app’s gaining popularity as Iran gears up for June presidential elections, and could help raise awareness of what’s at stake, he said.

Clubhouse didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions about the number of users in Iran or Persian-language rooms.

The app isn’t available for the Android operating systems that rule Iran’s smart-phone market. That lack of popular reach will dent its impact, said Fateme Karimkhan, a journalist and political analyst based in Tehran, but could also help Clubhouse avoid being shutdown.

“It’s mostly right now dominated by media elites, journalists and analysts -- and some individuals that want to be candidates in the presidential elections,” she said.

While China and Oman have restricted the app, officials in Iran are adopting it. On Wednesday, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh would discuss a recent controversial agreement with China on Clubhouse.

Earlier this week, former oil minister and IRGC commander Rostam Ghassemi spoke about his ambitions to contest the June poll. Probed about his knowledge of a now-jailed businessman who embezzled billions of dollars in oil revenues during the rule of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ghassemi appeared happy to answer -- until hardline journalists moderating the session admonished the line of questioning.

When another reporter criticized the IRGC, he was sternly warned that any sign of disrespect, or accusations against state institutions, wouldn’t be tolerated.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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